The debut feature of director Craig Newland (who made a short film in 2008 in Brisbane telling the same story) this drama based on the 1965 birth of Radio Hauraki - and, by extension, private broadcasting - has occupied him since the turn of the century.
In the meantime, a feature-length docudrama based on Adrian Blackburn's 1974 book The Shoestring Pirates, has been completed. It will screen on TV One in the winter, under the title Pirates of the Airwaves.
The present film - and its name - could have done with some piratical flair of its own. Characters tell us about a group that made "music history", but 3 Mile Limit sounds like a film about fishing or customs investigations.
Newland, who co-wrote, has dispensed with the names of the original Good Guys. His main character, Richard Davis (Whelan), who is modelled on David Gapes, is a journalist with dreams of starting a rock and roll radio station, and the script throws in a rather pallid domestic subplot mainly to put pressure on him.
In representing Davis as a dogged man dragging collaborators from challenge to challenge, the film misrepresents not just the facts but the promethean thrill of a quintessentially Kiwi story: anarchic, disorganised, malcontent can-do rebellious teamwork is what got Hauraki going and it seems absent from this tidy, careful, colourless film.
Technically, Newland and his team have achieved great results with what must have been a limited budget but the film lacks a sense of social context: you don't have to be geriatric to remember listening to Hauraki on the pocket transistor, yet the grassroots support for the venture is only fleetingly sketched and the political machinations overblown.
Add the occasional anachronism and plot hole (the transformation from near-bankruptcy to a gleamingly seaworthy Tiri is almost instantaneous) and you end up with a film that neither honours history nor compellingly adapts it. It's a missed opportunity.
Matt Whelan, Belinda Crawley, Dan Musgrove, David Aston
Tidy but colourless adaptation of a rocking good story